In the mid-1950s, William “Rooster” Brown stands outside Mel’s Truck Stop in Merky, Texas, holding a gun. He’s waiting for a waitress who humiliated him by rejecting his offer of a date. But when two would-be robbers suddenly raid the diner, Rooster stops them from raping a girl and possibly murdering the patrons—by shooting them both dead. The Merky townsfolk are smitten with Rooster’s valiant deed, and Mel Tucker—the diner’s owner, whose daughter, Laurie, was nearly assaulted—offers him a job and a place to live. Sheriff Bill Hickey, on the other hand, is skeptical, particularly after hearing that Rooster is the grandson of notorious outlaw Devil Brown. Mel pushes Rooster to run for sheriff in the upcoming election, and Rooster eventually does so, much to the chagrin of the town’s cops. Despite all that happens in these 500-plus pages, including a romance between Rooster and Laurie, surprisingly little narrative time passes—no more than two years. This allows the plot to center on Rooster, an imperfect protagonist who commendably recognizes his flaws: He never forgets his original, dark intentions at Mel’s, which contradict his status as a hero. He’s also torn between having religious faith, like his preacher father, or falling victim to alcohol, as his criminal grandfather did. When Rooster becomes part of the Tucker family by marrying Laurie, it adds a nice dynamic, particularly when he grows weary of Mel’s controlling influence and considers an affair with Merky’s newest resident, a beautiful German woman whose officer husband is overseas. Some of the novel’s supporting characters outshine the Tuckers, such as moonshiners Cletus and Alice, who befriend Rooster; and Harvey, a sympathetic cop whom many have written off as the “town idiot” but who seems to have an eidetic memory. Some scenes are also a bit overlong, as when Rooster undergoes “debate boot camp” during his campaign, but the solid final section significantly amps up the suspense.
An appealing tale that shows that even the luckiest people have barriers to overcome.